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Staff Editorials

City of Jasper and County should get together more often

Last week, county commissioners held a called joint meeting with Jasper City Council and Mayor John Weaver to discuss details about the Grandview Lake reservoir project. Nothing unusual there, right? It makes sense for two government entities to meet about one of the most important developments in Pickens County’s water supply in decades, right? 

Of course it makes sense for them to meet, but this meeting of the minds was highly, highly unusual - we can’t recall a single time county and city officials have met publicly to discuss anything, just the two of them, in at least 10 years. This fact was pointed out by two council members that night. Council member Sonny Proctor encouraged similar meetings in the future, while council member Kirk Raffield called it an “historic” event he hasn’t seen in his lifetime, going so far as to ask for a group photo to document it.  We spoke with a person closely involved in the project and he called the discussion “excellent,” commenting that having two government bodies hash out ideas and differing opinions is the “best way to do business.”  

We agree, and we’re honestly not sure how the city and the county have functioned so long without getting together. Jasper was identified at the recent Comprehensive Planning meetings as the driving force in Pickens County, with most commerce and infrastructure located inside the city limits, and there needs to be open and frequent communication between them and the county. Like Raffield said, “These two entities sitting together, things can only get better for our community. This group serves one community. That’s important for us to remember.” 

The benefit of such a meeting was made apparent not 10 minutes into discussion when some long-held misunderstandings were cleared up about the Grandview Lake project. The mayor thought the county wanted to sell water they will draw from the lake to customers inside the city’s service delivery area, which was not the case and resolved in a matter of seconds. 

A few examples of where more frequent discussion between the two entities could be beneficial are: 

• Parks - the city has one woefully underused park (Doris Wigington) in dire need of improvements, and the county has a park (Roper) that’s always too crowded;

• Road problems inside Bethany Moorings subdivision, which are currently located in the county but because of a complicated lawsuit are slated to be annexed into the city;

• Sewage treatment, which the county doesn’t have, and which the city wants to expand its facility but is struggling to justify the massive cost at this point.

The fact that a council member wanted to take a photo at last week’s meeting to document the unusual occurrence is telling. By no means are we proponents of meetings for the sake of having meetings (heaven knows we attend too many ourselves), but periodic meetings between city and county leaders including planning and development directors and other department heads can do nothing but good things for our community. 

 

Talking & thinking about Jasper

By Dan Pool

Editor

 

It seems that quite a few people from all walks of life have had downtown and the whole of Jasper on their minds lately. Both at the paper and around town, I have heard a number of discussions on what’s wrong with Jasper.

Not that these opinions have been sharply negative, but the general consensus is that Jasper is lacking something. One person referred to it as a “vibe,” which Jasper just doesn’t have downtown compared to Blue Ridge or Ellijay or even Ball Ground.

It is hard to define what gives an area a positive vibe. If you ask people what they liked about other towns, they invariably start by describing the businesses there or an event they hold.

Rarely, did anyone cite any cityscape element. No one complimented any other city’s sidewalks or how they arranged their plants.

The infrastructure of Jasper is not lacking. The sidewalks are nice, wide, smooth; there are brick accents and plants and trees. There is new asphalt on Main. There is a monument on the north end of town and a green space on the south; a scenic “Old Jail” and an attempt at a fountain.

The city plans to add downtown bathrooms and the merchants are looking to add lights. As far as the public areas go, what more can we do? Literally. Readers ask yourself are there features you have seen elsewhere that might convey a better vibe in Jasper and are feasible to bring here? [e-mail at bottom to comment]

We can’t replicate the Spanish Steps of Rome on Depot Street but perhaps the city/merchants/Chamber could do more with signage or other affordable touches? Please offer suggestions. [e-mail at the bottom]

One missing element often identified in Jasper is the people, as in the public, the shoppers, window shoppers, diners and pedestrians.

On the weekends, Ellijay and Blue Ridge are packed – too crowded, while Jasper often has a near-deserted look. City council member Kirk Raffield told me how he was sprucing up the grounds at the Old Jail when some out-of-towners paid us a compliment of sorts -- they liked Jasper because the streets were so empty. It’s true. On a Sunday afternoon you may have Main Street to yourself. 

One finer point to consider is that both Blue Ridge and Ellijay have large crowds of tourists holed up in mountain/river/lake cabins to draw from. People are visiting the areas north because of natural assets we simply don’t have in Pickens and there are not hundreds of rental cabins up in our hills. 

Jasper could add more street signage, better planters and more attractive signage but without those big natural draws we aren’t going to see that heavy traffic stopping here.

Some may read this and come to the conclusion that we favor  doing nothing. But that is not our position at all.

We believe there is always a place for improvement. Anything that makes Jasper better is a great service for all of us who live here – even if it doesn’t lure crowds.  Significant improvement is still laudable, even if it doesn’t bring a tide-change in the vibrancy of our town overnight. 

 

 

 

Let kids be kids; not little pro athletes

A couple of decades ago, being involved in sports meant playing football in the backyard,  pick-up basketball games or baseball with whatever you could find for bases and foul lines that depended on certain trees.

Kids played football in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball or softball in the spring. Kids switched it up and sports was just fun and games. 

The trend now is for kids to specialize in one certain sport in the hopes of garnering a college scholarship. All kids dream of being discovered by a pro scout; the difference is that now it’s the parents dreaming for the kids (and spending and driving and reordering lives) to make it more likely to happen.

Kids are starting at younger ages, joining travel sports teams as early as middle school, seeking higher-level competition so they can get better at their chosen sport. Rec. leagues alone don’t cut it if you think you are raising the next John Smoltz.

Time magazine last year reported that “kids of all skill levels, in virtually every team sport, are getting swept up by a youth sports economy that increasingly resembles the pros at increasingly early ages.” Kids sports leagues, the magazine said, has turned into a $15 billion industry. 

Neighborhood little leagues, town recreation departments and church basketball squads whose goals are to bond kids together, make friends and have fun, have fallen to the wayside. Privatized team clubs have nudged them aside to eat up the money and time of athletes and their families. Fees for many travel teams cost more than a month’s house payment not to mention the cost of traveling to different towns, and occasionally other states, for competition. 

At some point, it becomes simply too much time, money and effort devoted to turning a 12-year-old into a sports machine.

Quarterback great Tom Brady only started playing football as a freshman in high school. When he was a kid, he said, “There were no travel teams. My parents always exposed us to different things, different sports. It was basketball when it was basketball season. It was baseball when it was baseball season. I played a lot of soccer. There were some camps, but I just played in the neighborhood on our street with all the kids we grew up with. I’m experiencing it with my own kids (now) with all the organized activities that you put them in. It’s just hard, because all the parents are doing it, it seems, and the competition feels like it starts so early for these kids.” 

Parents want to be supportive of their kids - some going as far as working a second or third job to pay for the travel and fees that allow their kids to play on these teams - and are to be commended for all they sacrifice. Some families spend more than 10 percent of their income on registration fees, travel, camps and equipment, according to Time. The child’s sport pursuit becomes the all-consuming determination of what the family does.

From the craziness of family life revolving around a 13-year-old’s sporting event, the financial obligations, the excessive competition, and simply the burnout factor, Tom Brady is right (as much as we hate to admit it): Let student athletes enjoy their childhood years with all kinds of sports in a fun, backyard environment. 

The chance of a pro career is unlikely and childhood only comes once -- value the time you have with your kids.

 

In praise of air conditioning

While on Jekyll Island in early June at the annual Georgia Press Association convention, a colleague asked a group whether we would prefer to be a member of the 21st century middle-class or among the upper class of the 19th century when Jekyll Island was in its heyday. Seeing the restored “cottages” as they called them that the likes of William Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer and Richard Crane Jr. built on the island, one might have chosen to be in the upper-class of the late 1800s. While they may have had servants to wait on them hand and foot, yachts and mansions (their “cottages”), we all voted solidly to be in today’s middle class. 

The reasoning? Air conditioning. Regardless of how many people you could afford to pay to bring you lemonade to cool you down or wave hand-held fans around you all day, it doesn’t beat the ability to sit comfortably in our temperature-controlled homes and offices during August.

The man who invented modern day air conditioning, Willis Carrier, is a genius. While most people may not know his name, it is one to remember and applaud. 

As we head into August with what feels like constant 100 percent humidity coupled with 90 degree days, you can see why some historians have argued that the air conditioner was an essential pre-requisite for development in the South. 

Carrier, a young engineer in the summer of 1902, was sitting in a foggy Pittsburgh train platform when he realized he could dry air by passing it through water to create fog. Doing so, according to Carrier.com, would make it possible to manufacture air with specific amounts of moisture in it.

Within a year, he completed his invention to control humidity – the fundamental building block for modern air conditioning.

Brilliant.

Early on his invention was called a “weathermaker” and it changed the world, especially for those of us in the American South. That one invention morphed into something that allowed us, mere humans, to control the weather – at least the weather inside - by simply pushing a button or adjusting a dial. Talk about far-reaching and unexpected effects. While we’ve always been able to handle frigid north Georgia winters by warming ourselves by the wood fire, cooling down wasn’t so easy until Carrier’s invention took off.

Back in the day it was only flour mills and places like the Gillette corporation, where excessive moisture rusted the razor blades, that used Carrier’s invention. Later on, movie theatre owners figured out they could install air conditioning and it was as much of a selling point as the movies themselves. Imagine sitting in a windowless, hot, body-filled room in the summer months prior to air conditioning. Not happening and not surprisingly, most theatres shut down in the summer. Today, it’s almost essential to take a light sweater when temps inside a cinema are near-Arctic.

Thankfully for us in the South, today most everybody gets to enjoy chilled, humidity-free air inside their homes, offices and cars. It’s a luxury tycoons in the early 1900s never even imagined.

Lots of people say prolonged exposure to A/C erodes our natural ability to deal with the heat and that may be the case, especially if you talk to anyone over the age of 85 who may not have had A/C their entire lives.

    Being without cool air from a vent makes us temperamental and edgy, not to mention it takes the fun out of sleeping, forcing us to toss and turn all night.  

So J.P Morgan can have his yacht and mansions. We’ll take air conditioning any day because it’s the best since thing since BEFORE sliced bread. 

Early voting may be too much of a good thing

Georgia GOP voters deciding their governor candidate have been able to cast ballots in the race for 10 days by the time this paper comes out. And they still have until July 20th to vote early before the option of showing up in person to vote on July 24th.

It’s great idea that Georgia and other states do whatever they can to make voting convenient. But it’s unclear that the efforts have paid off in any substantive gains in turnout and there are solid reasons so much early voting time is detrimental to elections. 

Georgia political magazine James in their May/June issue had a well-researched article questioning whether the excessively-long early voting hurts turnout. The article noted, “While voters may find early voting more convenient, turnout data show that early voting may actually decrease turnout, not increase it.”

Making voting so easy, like picking up a gallon of milk, makes it seems trivial. In the words of Revolutionary-era pamphleteer Thomas Paine, “that we obtain too easily we esteem to lightly.” 

The James article by Hans von Spakovsky reported that Texas was the first state to adopt early voting in 1988. Thirty-seven states now offer some form of early voting.

A study from American University looked at the 2008 presidential election. The 2008 turnout was up 2.4 percent over the 2004 election. But seven of the 13 states with the highest turnouts had no form of early voting and 10 of 12 states that saw a decline in participation had some form of early voting. The magazine notes a similar study in 2013 from the University of Wisconsin came to the same conclusion -- states offering convenience voting don’t see much, if any, participation benefit. 

In Pickens County, early voting totals are generally below election day totals. In the spring primary, 3,160 waited until election day, while 1,917 cast early ballots. The highest number to vote on any single early voting day was 243 (the last day of early voting), while several days saw only about 85 people voting early during the primary. Our local election office says in a presidential election, more people will cast early ballots (almost equal to the number of election day voters), possibly out of fear of lines on election day. It should be noted that there are 12 regular polling places open on election day and only one early voting location, meaning the lines can be longer for early voting than on election day, when we are spread out across the county.

Aside from the cost of running the early polls, there are real problems we see in the long voting period. The extra days throw off mobilization attempts by candidates and public groups. When do you run your best ads or most urgent appeal?  When do you rally your troops? At the start of early voting or right before election day? If you wait on election day, then a sizeable chunk of ballots have already been cast and you miss those voters entirely. 

On the other hand, the extended voting time makes the election drag on too long and voter apathy increases as people tire of hearing the campaign news/ads every day from the start of early voting to election day. The constant cycle may leave voters ignoring campaign appeals entirely and fewer voters participating out of a backlash to the intended convenience.

A related problem is when news develops between the time early ballots are cast and the final count. Once a vote is cast it is cast. You can’t change it later if something really earth-shattering comes to light. An example cited by James magazine was in 2016, GOP presidential hopeful Marco Rubio dropped out of the race a week before the Arizona primary. He still finished third as many people had already cast ballots.

The James article concluded by quoting the American University poll saying the lack of voter participation is a real problem but “it’s not procedural, it’s motivational.”

We do recognize that many people need a couple of chances to get to the polls but surely a week of early voting, including the Saturday prior to election, is sufficient.